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Quartet of Sunderland Harriers eyeing capital gains

Sunderland Harriers' Ian Ritchie, who makes his marathon debut in London this weekend.
Sunderland Harriers' Ian Ritchie, who makes his marathon debut in London this weekend.

Four Sunderland Harriers compete in the London Marathon on Sunday with high hopes of gaining good results in the capital race.

And if all run up to form, it could be the Harriers’ best performance in the race for years.

Ian Ritchie makes his marathon debut, while Kevin Jeffress, veteran Ian Dixon and Alice Smith, are all looking to chase personal bests.

Ritchie, who managed to secure a championship entry after qualifying at the Great North Run, where he ran 1.14 for the Half Marathon, said: “My hope is to run 2.40 or less.

“I’ve stepped up from 50 miles a week to running 85-90 miles, and I peaked at 102 miles a couple of weeks ago.

“I feel strong and fit and managed to run mile reps at 5.15 pace which bodes well for London.

“The training has been tough, but I’ve followed my coach Richie Tough’s plans to the letter and hope it will pay off.

“My race plan is to run negative splits, aiming for 5.50 miles for the first half and then try and push on in the second half.

“I’m probably in 1 hour 11 minutes Half Marathon shape at the moment.

Ritchie, has raw talent, as he has only been running for six years and has just two and a half years of consistent training behind him through injuries.

His goal after London is to be running low 15 minutes over 5km and targeting some fast British Milers’ Club track races.

Jeffress, a 38-year-old, said: “Training has been going really well. This is the first build up where I can say I couldn’t have done any more.

“It has been a hard winter to train through the dreadful weather, but I have still stuck at it.

“I have been getting up to 100 miles a week over the last few weeks with some quality sessions. I’m hoping to run between 2.32-2.35.

“During my last two marathons my biggest challenge was finding myself on my own and no pack to run with.

“It should be different at London with plenty of athletes to work with, so looking forward to seeing what happens and soaking up atmosphere and enjoying my first London marathon.”

Dixon, an Over-40 veteran, said: “I’m looking forward to my first London Marathon.

“I gained a championship entry and I’m hoping to run faster than my previous fastest time of 2.41.04 from the Chester Marathon last year.”

Alice Smith is the fourth runner looking for a PB and she is bidding to dip below the three hours barrier.

She is in good form after finishing second in the women’s race in the Thirsk 10-mile early this month in a personal best of 64.09. And on Sunday, she was runner-up in the Hartlepool Marina 5-mile Road Race.

Also hoping to go below three hours is Over-50 Paul Redman, whose best stands at 2.46.56 and Over-45 Martin Blenkinsopp, who clocked 2.58.28 in 2016 London Marathon.

Sunderland Harriers have had a great tradition in the London Marathon, winning the men’s team title twice in 1997 and 1996, where they were invited to parade the winning trophy around Roker Park at half time.

Their last success came in 2002 when both Over-40 Dave Robertson and Over-55 Len Christopher won their veteran age category titles.

Sunderland won their last team medals in 2000 and 1999 when finishing third and second team respectively.

It is worthwhile looking at the performances compared to today’s drop in marathon standards nationwide.

The team that won the silver medals was Dave Grover (2.23.13), Malcolm Price (2.24.41), Over-40 and international Ian Haggan (2.24.53), whose best stood at 2.16.32 and Michael Thompson (2.25.22).

There were also a number of other impressive times. Ron Wills (2.36.52), Over-50 Vin Tindle (2.40.14), George Harden (2.47.32), Over-50 Len Christopher (2.49.53), Over-40 Ken Collins (2.54.37) and Over-40 Alan Laws (2.54.37).

Jessica Fox opened her track season in America with two victories.

Competing for McNeese State University at in the ULM Warhawk Classic in Monroe, Los Angeles, she won the 1,500m (3.52.61).

Then at Lake Charles, she made a winning debut and became the first female Sunderland Harrier to compete in the 3,000m steeplechase and won in 11.59.40.

Houghton Harrier Will Bellamy got his track season off to a good start with his win in the Gateshead Harriers’ Gold Medal meeting.

He won the Under-17 1,500m (4.09.44). Clubmate Lydia James took the Under-17 Women’s 1,500m (4.59.33) and Anna Pigford was second (5.06.53).

Tonight is the opening fixture of the North Eastern Counties Grand Prix at Monkton (6.15pm).

It will feature the North Eastern Championship 10,000m which has received 38 entries. There could be two races.